• Facebook
  • Twitter

A putter should be swung, not anchored

It was a strange week in Tshwane.  I've played quite a few times in Johannesburg over the years and it's always been hot and stormy.  We generally have thunder delays in the afternoons and the heat dissipates after the storm.  It wasn't the case in Tshwane this week.  The heat just kept building.  I've never played in altitude, 1800m (above sea level) at 36⁰C before and I can tell you it is hard work!  All the caddies were complaining, it's a long course to begin with, 12km on the cart path, with plenty of hills.  They said it was pulling the lungs out of them.  I was feeling it too, I must be getting old!

We also got to play the Pro-am on the Tuesday, which is unusual and I kind of liked it.  It meant I had a day to socialize and fulfill the Tour's sponsor obligations and then had a day before the event all to myself to practice.  I didn't play great on Thursday; I sprayed the ball a lot and only hit 4 fairways.  It's just not good enough at this level.  James (my caddy) and I headed to the range on our own as Jamie Gough (my coach) was in America with George Coetzee and Richard Sterne.  We'd figured out that I was setting up a bit open.  I've also had a couple of 3D analysis tests done recently, all on different software, the one overriding point of all the analysis being that I start off with my hips too open.  Mine are at about 10⁰ open, the average PGA Tour Pro is between 3⁰ closed to 3⁰ open, so I'm a bit out!  It means I can't get the proper hip turn back and kind of slide as a result.  A few drills later and I was feeling much more confident, Friday was going to be a better day I just knew it! 

As it turned out I only missed 2 fairways on Friday and I hit 14 greens.  Unfortunately I couldn't buy a putt all day and ended up shooting par, which although a huge improvement meant I missed the cut again.  My chipping is normally a strong point but it was no good this week; I struggled with the Kikuyu grass.  It's a very "springy" grass which the ball shoots off low and fast.  I found it hard to get it to come out softer without fatting the shot.  The other difficult factor you have to account for this week is the altitude; the ball generally goes about 10% further so we use a meters book instead of yards, it means that we then didn't have to try and do the conversion for each shot.  It helps when it's hot and you're tired and not thinking properly.  Unfortunately on the second morning it hadn't warmed up enough for the ball to be flying the 10% extra and we were guessing a little on the front 9 as to how far each club would go and I came up short a couple of times.  As it heated up on the back 9 it was back to full 10% distance again, this is the tough thing about altitude!

When you consider the conditions, grass and altitude it's easy to see why the local guys were up near the top of the leader board come the weekend.  I think the top 4 were all from the surrounding area.  Plus South African golfers tend to be pretty good, I think it's the climate and the sports mad culture.

My box of hats from Bev eventually arrived on Friday afternoon, only 5 days late, thanks to UPS and it being Africa.  They were just in time for me to pack them into my flight bag and take them back to Dubai.  One of the problems of trying to leave a big centre like Johannesburg is that all the flights are full.  I was lucky and got a seat on Saturday night; Bev had called Friday morning UK time and was told there was only one seat available on the Saturday night to Dubai, it was first class and was going to cost me a fortune to change.  When she called back about 2 hours later 2 other seats had opened up and she just booked me one.  It's always a little depressing when you've missed the weekend but have to remain at the players' hotel.  I wasn't the only guy on my flight when I turned up to the airport.  Oliver Fisher was also headed to Dubai to practice for the week and David Horsey was headed back to Manchester to watch "the big game" before flying back out to Dubai on Thursday.   Olly and I agreed to meet up and get a few holes in over the week as we'd be practicing at the same facilities.

I was a little bemused by all the coverage of Rory at the Honda Classic in America over the weekend as well.  The press seem to have forgotten that it was only his third start of the season but I guess now he's world number one his performances are analysed in the same fashion as Tiger's.  It seems that unless they finish in the top 3 every week folks just aren't satisfied.  Everyone seems to have forgotten that he missed four out of five cuts last year before he had the great run towards the end of last season - he only won 2 Fedex Cup events, the money lists both sides of the Atlantic, Dubai World Championship and a Major - not bad when everyone was panicking a few months before!  I think I'll stick with Stephen Watson's judgment on Twitter.

The other issue getting a lot of press was the impending change of rules by the R&A and USGA.  I personally think putters should be "swung" and not anchored.  I don't think that when the long putter was introduced over 20 years ago anyone anticipated younger players using it; it had been designed as an aid for the older competitor or those with the "yips".  It's been adopted by some younger players looking for a way to improve their putting average.  I've even heard that one American College coach won't consider you for the team unless you use the belly putter; he's so convinced that it offers a better statistical outcome.  I tried it myself a few seasons back and found that I was less in control which in a way was better under pressure as the hands couldn't take over. There has been some speculation that law suits could result from a rule change, I think more in America than Europe, should the rule come into force as a lot of the younger American guys have only ever used the belly putter and you can understand if that is taken away from them.  I think it would be a confusing time for the game should the PGA Tour split from the ruling of the R&A and USGA, but that's only my opinion.

The other major headline catching my attention was the announcement, finally, by the European Tour of the Northern Ireland Challenge Open.  The Challenge Tour is finally coming back to Northern Ireland and Galgorm Castle Golf Club will host the event the last week in August.  The last Challenge Tour event to be held in Northern Ireland took place in 2003 at Clandeboye and Darren Clarke won, I finished 15th.  This time I'll be hoping to repeat a home victory!